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From Far & Near

BY SHASHI MALLA

• Nepal: PM Oli in the Capitalists/Imperialists Dens
“My Republica” (June 3, 2019) reported Prime Minister K.P. Sharma Oli is slated to visit Switzerland, United Kingdom and France from June 8 to 15, according to Foreign Minister Pradeep Kumar Gyawali. This will be Oli’s second junket to Europe since the Maoists-Leninists came to power in February 2018. In January this year, Oli dared to visit Davos-Klosters, Switzerland to attend the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum – the den of the scheming and exploitative international capitalists.
Oli is to lead a so-called “high-powered Nepali delegation”. First, he will address an event in Geneva to mark the centenary celebrations of the International Labour Organization (ILO) on June 10. He will hold talks with Swiss Interior Minister Alain Berset, who is also the former president of the Swiss Confederation. Apart from various official engagements, Oli will meet the Geneva-based Nepali community. Since Oli has already been briefed by Nepalese experts on European and Swiss affairs, he will gain further knowledge and valuable experience. On his return, we poor Nepalese can be expected to be illuminated by Oli of his new-found vision of a “Himalayan Switzerland”.
The next stop of his next business-cum-pleasure trip will be the United Kingdom, where he will meet the caretaker Prime Minister Theresa May on June 11. They will definitely have an unique opportunity to exchange ideas on how countries can commit political suicide. Oli is also to deliver a lecture at Oxford University, a very rare honour, which has probably to do with his and his comrade Prachanda’s major contribution to the development of ‘Maoist-Leninist-Stalinist Thought in the Himalayan Context’. Considering the more than two centuries of Anglo-Nepalese [Gorkhali] martial relations, we shouldnot be surprised if Oli on the spur of a brilliant moment, applies for Nepal’s membership in the [British] Commonwealth.
Oli will hop back from soon-to-be ‘Little England’ to the Continent to meet French President Emmanuel Macron. He will attend a special event to mark the 70th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Nepal and France. Meeting Nepalese compatriots is not on the agenda of the PM’s busy schedule, since too many NRNs (Non-Resident Nepalese) investing in our country would be too overwhelming, and moreover the retinue would also like time off to take in the sights in the ‘City of Love’ and purchase exquisite French perfumes!
The prime minister’s entourage will consist of only 27 members, including the First Lady, ministers, secretaries, joint secretaries, advisors, private secretaries, journalists [only state-controlled media, please], security personnel and even a medical doctor. In short, these will be royal state visits, where the benefits will be huge, and the costs less than astronomical [let’s not be unnecessarily skimpy, after all its only taxpayers’ money].
After all also, the last few months – and years – have been very hard on our politicians, bureaucrats, advisors and general hangers-on. These hard-pressed comrade ladies and gentlemen need time off for ‘R & R’ [Rest and Recreation] and splurge on their hard-earned Euros, US Dollars and Swiss Francs!
• United States & China: A New Cold War?
China’s Defence Minister General Wei Fenghe has issued a stern warning to “external forces” that foster the idea of independence for Taiwan. His comments at the “Shangri-La Dialogue”, Asia’s primary security summit meeting in Singapore [Europe’s takes place annually in Munich] last Sunday came amid rising tensions between China and the United States, inflamed by a near year-long trade war, and disputes over technology transfers, Taiwan and the South China Sea.
Beijing regards Taiwan as a rebellious and obstinate province awaiting reunification, and General Wei reiterated the central government’s much expressed line that it reserved the right to use force if necessary. At a time of very poor US-China relations, Beijing regards the issue of the “One China” policy as a red line, and has expressed its strong disapproval of Washington’s moves to strengthen links with Taipei, especially as the autonomous island nation [which is recognized as sovereign by very few countries, and not even the US] is preparing for a presidential election next year.
Lt.Gen. He Lei, who led the PLA delegation at the Singapore summit in 2017 and 2018, said Gen. Wei’s warning regarding Taiwan was a response to the United States’ new “Indo-Pacific Strategy” (South China Morning Post, June 2, 2019). He portended: “If Taiwan joins the Indo-Pacific Strategy, that means it will move one more step towards independence.”
However, despite the strong words, Gen. Wei concluded on a more conciliatory note, calling for greater cooperation with the US and a commitment to make military exchanges “a stabilizer for the overall relations”.
• Trans-Atlantic Secretive Meeting in Switzerland
In the spate of various international meetings, conferences and summits, another one – this one very secretive, by invitation only and restricted to 130 so-called elites from 23 countries only from Europe and North America, participated in the 67th event of the“Bilderberg Group”, in the picturesque town of Montreux, Switzerland (bilderbergmeetings.org).
Among the diverse group of political leaders and experts from industry, finance, academia, labour and the media were Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg and elder statesman Henry Kissinger. Other participants are Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire and German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen.
Most notably, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the president’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner were also in the group of global power brokers, but probably brought a discordant note in the proceedings. The Trump administration, after all, instead of contributing leadership and solutions to the world’s problems, has itself become part of the problems – undermining the rules-based international order, swelling tensions with Beijing, with complex, asymmetrical relations with Russia, threatening stance vis-à-vis Iran, lopsided Middle East policy, and a more than skeptical attitude to calls to combat climate change, et al, ad infinitum.
The group, which has met every year since 1954 and was created as a forum for fostering dialogue between Europe and North America, this year discussed a range of topics – in secret, away from the public and the media — such as climate change, the future of capitalism, the ethics of Artificial Intelligence, China, Russia, Brexit, ‘A Stable Strategic Order’, ‘The Weaponisation of Social Media’ and Cyber threats (Infowars.com/May 28, 2019).
As is the usual practice, the participants must observe the so-called “Chatham House Rule” [a think tank in London], meaning that participants are free to use the information received, but may not reveal the identity nor the affiliation of the speaker (Agence France Presse, Bern, June 1, 2019).
The very secretive nature of the group has given birth to various conspiracy theories. Some have warned, for example, that “Bilderberg” [translates from the German to: ‘mountain of pictures/images/metaphors] is a group of very rich and powerful, globalist kingmakers intent on imposing a ‘one world’ government (AFP).
• Islamic States Meet to Confront Iran
The Saudi-hosted summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in the holy city of Mecca has thrown its support behind Palestinians ahead of a US-led so-called peace plan widely suspected to be tilted in favour of Israel.
This ‘peace plan’ could be designated as ‘dead on arrival’ after the Trump administration’s controversial moves to transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the strategic Golan Heights [in Syria, but occupied by Israel].
The third and final Iran-focused summit of the 57-member Islamic bloc, was marked by the notable absence of Iranian and Turkish leaders [both of whom disclaim Saudi Arabia’s leadership of the Muslim world], and called for a boycott of countries that have opened diplomatic missions in the disputed city of Jerusalem. The Palestinians – a nation with territory, but no state — see the eastern part of the city as the capital of their future state.
The OIC’s support comes as Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner prepares to roll out economic aspects of his long-awaited Middle East peace plan at a conference in Bahrain later this month. The plan, which has been foolishly praised to the skies by Trump as his “deal of the century”, has already been rejected by the Palestinians, who rightly insist the president’s policies have shown him to be overwhelmingly biased in favour of Israel.
In back-to-back summits, the OIC also backed Saudi Arabia in escalating tensions with Iran, as King Salman warned that “terrorist” attacks in the Persian Gulf region could imperil global energy supplies. Voicing solidarity, the OIC-Secretary General said: “Undermining the security of the [Saudi] kingdom effectively undermines the security of the Arab and Islamic world.”
The remarks came after sabotage attacks damaged four vessels (two Saudi oil tankers, one from the UAE, and one from Norway), off the UAE coast in the Gulf of Oman/Arabian Sea. Twin Houthi Yemini rebel drone attacks also shut down a key Saudi oil pipeline. Yemen borders Saudi Arabia towards the south-west and south in the Arabian peninsula.
Previously, Trump’s hawkish National Security Adviser John Bolton had claimed that Iranian naval mines were “almost certainly” responsible for the damage to the four ships.
Tehran dismissed Bolton’s accusation as “laughable” and accused him of pursuing “evil desires for chaos in the region.”
Regional tensions have risen very sharply since the Trump administration re-imposed crippling unilateral sanctions against Iran, after Trump abandoned a landmark 2015 nuclear agreement between major powers and Iran in May 2018.
• India: Hindu Nationalism or the Economy?
In his new government, PM Narendra Modi named his trusted aide, Amit Shah, for the key role of interior minister, confirming his long-time ally as his number two. As president of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Shah, 54, masterminded Modi’s second triumphal election victory and must now pursue Modi’s Hindu nationalist agenda in internal security, immigration and other key domestic issues – Hindustan ueber alles!
Shah is a controversial figure and was accused of ordering police in carrying out extra-judicial killings in his home state of Gujarat in 2005. He was arrested in 2010 and banished from the western state for two years before being cleared in 2014 for lack of evidence.
Modi appointed distinguished career diplomat S. Jaishankar as minister for external affairs. He was the foreign secretary in the ministry until his retirement last year and was an influential advisor to Modi during his first five years in power. He replaced SushmaSwaraj, a party veteran, who has been suffering poor health.
The appointment of Jaishankar, a China expert and former ambassador to Washington, indicates that Modi will lay more emphasis in India’s relations with the world’s super and major powers, and his agenda of “MIGA” – ‘Make India Great Again’.
However, hours after India’s first full-time woman finance minister Nirmala Sitharaman took office, the government had to announce the third straight fall in quarterly growth to 5.8 percent in the first three months of the year. This means India has lost its place as the world’s fastest growing major economy to China, which had 6.4 percent growth in the first quarter. Slower investment growth and weak consumer spending mean India’s economic performance could be even worse in the next quarter.
In parallel, authorities also revealed the unemployment rate for 2017-2018 at 6.1 percent – the worst since 1973. These jobless figures were purposefully suppressed during the election campaign. There is now intense pressure on Sitharaman to kickstart reforms and create jobs for more than 12 million young Indians entering the workforce every year. The BJP election manifesto had promised a US Dollar $ 1.4 trillion infrastructure spending spree over five years, hoping to boost employment prospects.
Modi’s ultra-nationalist BJP had cleverly Chanyakya-like [Machiavellian would be too mild a term] won the election on a tough national security stance and the trumped-up threat from Pakistan, and largely ignoring the state of the economy. As the erudite Peter Calvocoressi has written [but in another context], “the crucial test…would lie in the rise or fall in unemployment – the collision point of economic and social imperatives “ [“World Politics 1945-2000”, 2010].

The writer can be reached at: shashipbmalla@hotmail.com

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